For You

We walk into the corner store drooling for shoelace licorice. My
best friend in the whole world, even though he’s a boy, leads me
through the too-close aisles, and almost knocks over a rack of Philly
Inquirers. His summer buzz cut is so short, he’s almost bald, bony
shoulders poke out of his Bruce Lee tank top, cut-offs, no socks in
his black Kung Fu shoes. The dog choker chain that holds the two
pieces of broom stick together swings back and forth in his back
pocket, clanking when he walks. Manny stops in front of a round rack
of key chains. He turns the rack, key chains swing, crashing into
each other. I stare, hypnotized by the different plastic animals that
hang from the key rings. He asks which one I like. I like the monkey

Manny lifts the monkey, pointer finger through the key ring, holds
it above my head and asks the viejo how much. The viejo
leans on the counter over the sports page, chin in hand, looks at us,
I try to concentrate on his good eye, the cloudy one gives me the
creeps, and says fifty cents. Manny thanks him and puts the key ring
back on the rack. Then, one quick look at the owner reading the
paper, and Manny snatches the key ring and stuffs it in his pocket.
My stomach could fit through that key ring right now.

It happens like a swing and a miss in stickball, so fast that I
don’t know what’s happening till it’s too late. We pay for our
shoelace licorice and leave. Halfway down the block, my best friend
reaches into his pocket and holds the key ring, swaying, in front of
my face. “For you,” he says. I’m stunned, even more scared than
when we were in the store. Any minute now the police are going to put
us in jail. I feel wrong accepting it, but not taking it would hurt
his feelings.

The only time I took something that didn’t belong to me, I ended
up confessing it to God because I was afraid lightning would hit me
or something. I took a Hot Wheels car from a kid at school. I thought
it would be like getting an ice cream cone when I didn’t expect it,
but I didn’t have fun playing with it. The next day I dropped the
car in the back of the classroom by the kid’s lunch box. At the
time, I thought maybe it was different when you stole something and
gave it away like Robin Hood. Maybe that made you feel good. I wish I
didn’t see Manny take the key ring.

Manny drops the monkey key ring in my palm, I stare at it and
thank him. I know I won’t tell on him. I never tell on him; when he
took his mom’s broom stick and sawed it in half to make chocko
sticks, I didn’t say nothing.

We walk home slurping shoelace licorice like spaghetti, Manny Kung
Fu chops the air into pieces. “Who you going to beat up with those
Kung Fu moves?” Manny takes out his chocko sticks and starts
swinging them from side to side, he comes too close to my face. “You
never know who’s in the shadows.”

“Manny, that’s only in the movies.” I take the chocko sticks
out of his hand. “If the cops see you with these, you’re in

“I’m too fast for them.” He jumps up, kicks his foot above
his head and yells, “YEEEAAAAH!” He lands, his hand right in
front of my face in what he calls the death grip.

“You don’t really know Kung Fu. You’re going to hurt
yourself.” I give back the chocko sticks, he puts them in his back

We come around the corner and these older boys are waiting in
front of Manny’s house. “What are they doing there?”

“They’re my friends.”

“Since when?”

“Don’t worry about them, they won’t do nothing to you.”

“Manny, they trashed the school last year, remember?”

“Yeah, that was funny.”

We get closer to the three guys, they nod at us, Manny nods back.
Manny turns to me before we get real close, “I have to go.”

“With them?” I want to hit him over the head with his chocko

I’m sitting on his porch steps watching him act like a goof ball
with those stupid dorks. All of them karate chopping each other and
laughing too loud. They walk down the street pushing each other
around. I put my hand on my forehead to shade my eyes so I can see
them better. They go down the block getting smaller and smaller, and
then they disappear. He told me to wait for him. The sun starts
burning my scalp and the street looks liquid. Like I could swim in
the black of it. My head starts hurting and I squeeze the key ring so
hard it leaves a dent in my palm. I hold up the key ring, the monkey
has this dumb grin on his face.

Myrna Rodriguez was born and raised in Philadelphia and currently resides in South Jersey. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in January 2007, and is presently an adjunct instructor at several local colleges.

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